By Army Sgt. Whitney Houston
Special to American Forces Press Service
Oct. 7, 2008 - Unless they've been through it themselves, few people understand the hardships that U.S. soldiers endure in a combat zone, away from everything familiar in a foreign land, far away from the support systems of family, home and friends. To help troops counteract the effects of being deployed, many devout patriots are providing soldiers a taste of home through donations to the Soldiers' Blessing Store on Forward Operating Base Prosperity in Baghdad.
Army Chaplain (Capt.) Tim Reynolds, a native of Beaumont, Texas, who serves in Multinational Division Baghdad with the 4th Infantry Division's 4th Battalion, 42nd Field Artillery Regiment, 1st Brigade Combat Team, has collected donations from individuals and charitable organizations across the United States and consolidated them in the store in what he calls an attempt to bless soldiers' lives.
"It's hard for me to quantify, but we've received donations from 20 to 30 states," Reynolds said. "It's a great way to show soldiers that people back home care for them, and it's also a great reminder for them that there are a lot of people that support them back home."
The idea behind the Soldiers' Blessing Store was to provide soldiers who aren't close to a post exchange with a perpetual care package, giving them home-baked goods, reading materials and essentials such as hygiene products.
"A lot of soldiers don't receive care packages on a regular basis, and in this case, it's a continual care package from the people back home," said Capt. Jonathan Hilton, a native of Colorado Springs, Colo., who serves with the 4th Infantry Division's 3rd Battalion, 29th Field Artillery Regiment, 3rd Brigade Combat Team.
"In addition to that," he continued, "there are a lot of soldiers who are at joint security stations or forward operating bases where there isn't a PX, so when they come here they can come in and get stuff like hygiene products and morale things like books and homemade brownies."
This not only boosts soldiers' morale, but also helps them a little economically as well. "It's just a great thing to be able to do something like this. It's a practical thing to save soldiers some money," Reynolds said.
This huge operation requires a lot of coordination, Reynolds said. Members of his family and many others have worked tirelessly to get the goods, which have an estimated value of more than $40,000, to the store so far.
"My Aunt Merna in Bay City, Texas, has a lot of connections that she works through to get this stuff over here," Reynolds said. "It's like we're doing [those who give] a service by taking their donations. To me that speaks volumes. And believe you me, they get very excited having the opportunity to do this for the soldiers."
Downplaying his own efforts, Reynolds explained that the people back home who have given their time are the true champions of the operation.
"I'm not the hero," Reynolds said. "The heroes are the folks back home. All I do is facilitate and provide an avenue for the folks back home to do their part in supporting our soldiers. Without their help and support, it couldn't happen."
(Army Sgt. Whitney Houston serves in the Multinational Division Baghdad Public Affairs Office.)